The Australian

17 September 2021


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LEFT: Robert Gottliebsen; RIGHT: an America’s Virginia-class attack submarine

7:48AM SEPTEMBER 17, 2021

In a series of articles in “The Australian” from 17 February 2020, leading public affairs commentator Robert Gottliebsen has exposed the manner in which the French conned Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Defence Minister Christopher Pyne into accepting a submarine contract that would be disastrous for Australia. He was proved right when the Australian government announced cancellation of the French submarine contract on Friday 17 September 2021.

In “The Weekend Australian” of 17 September 2021, Mr Gottliebsen wrote:

“….good news came this week in the form of the cancellation of the disastrous French submarine contract, which was set to cause the nation to waste more than $270 billion on submarines that would have had very little use in future decades and were likely to be a coffin for our sailors.

What made the decision so much more encouraging was that government politicians had to admit a huge error - something Australian politicians abhor - conceding the waste of billions in expenditure and a five-year delay to the submarines project.

Given the French are unfairly criticising Australia when it was their 2016 gross deception and false statements that were the main causes of the disaster, Australians need to know how the politicians of 2016 made this horrendous mistake.

The French appointed a brilliant team of salespeople led by Madame Marie-Pierre de Bailliencourt. They presented Australia with a concept whereby we would have a large submarine driven by conventional batteries and using a controversial propulsion technique, 80 to 90 per cent Australian content and the opportunity to be a submarine research hub in the region….a meeting of the Australian National Security Committee (a collection of top ministers) was called for Sunday, April 24. At that meeting defence officials gave a passionate endorsement of the French bid and that endorsement was backed by Turnbull….The problem was the French were taken at their word and the decision was not properly researched and tested. It was all too quick.

Back in Paris, the French had no intention of honouring the undertakings of de Bailliencourt’s team and indeed, as Malcolm Turnbull was announcing the French bid, the French president was announcing that 3000 to 4000 jobs would be created in France, which was totally incompatible with the de Bailliencourt deal. The French quickly sacked de Bailliencourt plus all her Australian team and sent out the French heavies to explain the real contract. We had been “conned”.

Meanwhile not only was the contract revamped, but as time went on the costs ballooned as it became a cost-plus contract, with the French dictating the terms. They wanted their suppliers, not Australians.

It took the combination of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Defence Minister Peter Dutton to make the hard call. The Navy always wanted a nuclear submarine but in 2016, politically, it wasn’t possible. Now with China trade sanctions and tirades against Australia, community attitudes have changed.”

Business Columnist
Robert Gottliebsen has spent more than 50 years writing and commentating about business and investment in Australia. He has won the Walkley award and Australian Journalist of the Year award. He has a place in t... Read more